Trump to install loyalists to reshape U.S. foreign policy on China, NATO and Ukraine
Donald Trump in a second term would likely install loyalists in key positions in the Pentagon, State Department and CIA whose primary allegiance would be to him, allowing him more freedom than in his first presidency to enact isolationist policies and whims.
Donald Trump in a second term would likely install loyalists in key positions in the Pentagon, State Department and CIA whose primary allegiance would be to him, allowing him more freedom than in his first presidency to enact isolationist policies and whims, nearly 20 current and former aides and diplomats said.
The result would enable Trump to make sweeping changes to the U.S. stance on issues ranging from the Ukraine war to trade with China, as well as to the federal institutions that implement - and sometimes constrain - foreign policy, the aides and diplomats said.
During his 2017-2021 term, Trump struggled to impose his sometimes impulsive and erratic vision on the U.S. national security establishment.
He often voiced frustration at top officials who slow-walked, shelved, or talked him out of some of his schemes. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in his memoir that he twice raised objections to Trump's suggestion of missile strikes on drug cartels in Mexico, the U.S.'s biggest trade partner. The former president has not commented.
"President Trump came to realize that personnel is policy," said Robert O'Brien, Trump's fourth and final national security adviser. "At the outset of his administration, there were a lot of people that were interested in implementing their own policies, not the president's policies."
Having more loyalists in place would allow Trump to advance his foreign policy priorities faster and more efficiently than he was able to when previously in office, the current and former aides said.
Among his proposals on the campaign trail this year, Trump has said he would deploy U.S. Special Forces against the Mexican cartels - something unlikely to get the blessing of the Mexican government.
If he returns to power again, Trump would waste little time cutting defense aid to Europe and further shrinking economic ties with China, the aides said.
O'Brien, who remains one of Trump's top foreign policy advisers and speaks to him regularly, said imposing trade tariffs on NATO countries if they did not meet their commitments to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense would likely be among the policies on the table during a second Trump term.
The Trump campaign declined to comment for this article.
Unlike in the lead-up to his 2016 election, Trump has cultivated a stable of people with whom he speaks regularly, and who have significant foreign policy experience and his personal trust, according to four people who converse with him.
Those advisers include John Ratcliffe, Trump's last Director of National Intelligence, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, and Kash Patel, a former Trump staffer who held several positions in the intelligence and defense communities.
None of those people responded to interview requests.
While the specific policies of these informal advisers vary to some degree, most have been vocal defenders of Trump since he left office and have expressed concerns that America is paying too much to support both NATO and Ukraine.